The Yukon government has released the report produced after an independent inspection of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC), which contains 40 wide-ranging recommendations on how the WCC should improve or change its facilities and services.
Among those recommendations are creating a mental wellness unit at the WCC, training all correctional officers on how to work with individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, limiting the use of separate confinement to no more than 15 days in a year and establishing a First Nations advisory board.
The government released the report, as well as a chart listing the report’s recommendations and the government’s responses, the afternoon of Aug. 15.
The report was written by legal advisor David Loukidelis, who Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee appointed to conduct an inspection of the WCC in November 2017. McPhee originally ordered the inspection of the WCC in September 2017 following the conclusion of the Michael Nehass case, which raised questions about the treatment and resources available to First Nations inmates and inmates with mental health issues as well as allegations of solitary confinement, among other things.
Loukidelis began his independent inspection in January, and as part of the work, had access to the facility, spoke to corrections workers, current and prior WCC inmates, various Yukon First Nations and other community groups, and also reviewed thousands of documents and files.
He submitted his report to the Yukon government May 15. The government had promised to release the report and its response to it within 90 days.
The 96-page report focuses on four key areas — mental health services, the use and effects of separate confinement, improving outcomes for First Nations individuals, and justice system initiatives.
While Loukidelis applauds several practices and initiatives the WCC and Yukon justice system already has in place, such as the substance abuse management and treatment programs available to inmates and the community wellness courts, the report also points out a number of shortcomings.
Those include the extent to which mental health support and treatment is available, the ability to deliver culturally-appropriate programming for First Nations inmates, and a portion of the Corrections Regulation that allows for an inmate to be placed in separate confinement based solely on whether the individual is believed to be suffering from “mental illness.”
Nine of the recommendations are specifically related to improving conditions for First Nations inmates, and include appointing a full-time First Nations service officer, improving elders’ access to inmates, ensuring that correctional officers have “adequate training in First Nations matters” and possibly re-purposing unused portions of the jail for First Nations programming and support, including smudging and sweat facilities.
Two of the recommendations also state that the WCC should have appropriate programming and support for inmates diagnosed or suspected to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, while another 12 are related to increasing the transparency around, and limiting the use of, separate confinement and segregation.
In a press conference following the release of Loukidelis’s report, McPhee said that the government has accepted the recommendations.
“We will improve how we deliver programs and services at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre to all inmates, and enhance support for inmates with mental health and addictions issues,” she said. “Yukoners must have confidence in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre operations. We need to do better and we will. I believe this report gives us solid footing to make necessary changes.”
Timelines for when any of the 40 recommendations would be implemented were not provided, but McPhee said that the Yukon government has already began working on some of them in collaboration with Yukon First Nations and other parties involved in the justice field.
It’s also not clear, even though the Yukon government “accepts” the recommendations, whether all of them will be acted on. In its chart, 28 of the recommendations are listed as “accepted” while others are listed as “under consideration.” As well, a letter from Lesley McCullough, assistant deputy minister of justice, to McPhee dated Aug. 14 states that four of the recommendations have been “deferred” because they can’t be achieved by the justice department alone while two “have already been mitigated at this time.”
In the letter, McCullough wrote that the Yukon government’s next step is to form an “implementation working group with balanced representation from Yukon First Nations governments and departmental partners,” which will then develop an “implementation plan.”
In an email Aug. 17, justice spokesperson Megan Foreman said the group will be formed “as quickly as possible,” but did not provide an exact date, nor a date for when the group would begin its work.
In an email Aug. 16, Yukon government spokesperson Sunny Patch said it was “too early” to say whether updates on the group’s work will be made public.
The full report, as well as the government’s response chart, is available on the Yukon government website.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org